Cholesterol beneficial to brain cell development

12 October 2009

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Category: Research & medical benefits

research–graph.jpgResearchers have discovered that a derivative of cholesterol is necessary for forming brain cells.

The researchers studied the development of dopamine-producing (DA) neurons in the brains of mice. They saw that the process is dependent on the activation of a brain receptor by oxysterol, an oxidised form of cholesterol.The team genetically engineered mice embryos to delete two oxysterol receptors. The resulting mice had reduced DA neurons at birth, but when the team activated the receptors with oxysterol the neurons grew.

The researchers also found that human embryonic stem cells form more dopamine producing nerve cells if they are treated with oxysterol in laboratory cultures. The treatment also reduced the tendency for the stem cells to show uncontrolled growth, which is often a problem with culturing stem cells in the laboratory.

DA nerve cells are important in many brain functions, and are the cell type affected by Parkinson’s disease. It is therefore hoped that this discovery will make it possible to one day develop treatments to replace dead cells in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients.